CEDAR POINT — Town commissioners Tuesday night agreed with a standing-room-only crowd of residents and unanimously voted down a request to rezone a 1.2-acre tract at the intersection of Highway 24 and Dolphin Bay Estates Road from residential to business.
The action came during the board’s regular meeting in town hall off Sherwood Avenue and followed resident opposition at several previous meetings.
Property owner Craig Hill was not at the meeting. His request was to rezone the property from R-20 (residential, minimum lot size 20,000 square feet) to B-1 (general business).
Thursday, he said he planned to be at the public hearing but didn’t know about it and was not formally notified.
“If I’d been planning to put something there (on the property) myself, I guess I’d have been a little more intense about it. I bought the property to sell it and I just wanted to get a little more money for it,” said Mr. Hill, whose address is listed as Fawn Creek Court in the Magen’s Bay development in Cedar Point.
In June the town posted a sign on Mr. Hill’s Dolphin Bay Estates property – a notice of public hearing – with two phone numbers for town hall to call for information.
In addition, Jayne Calhoun, town clerk and now interim town administrator, said Thursday the notice was published in the News-Times and meeting agendas were posted on the town’s Facebook page and website.
“We did what we always do” in terms of notification, she said.
N.C. General Statute 153A-343 states that, “…whenever there is a zoning map amendment, the owner of that parcel of land as shown on the county tax listing, and the owners of all parcels of land abutting that parcel of land as shown on the county tax listing, shall be mailed a notice of a public hearing on the proposed amendment by first class mail at the last addresses listed for such owners on the county tax abstracts.”
Chris Seaberg, now-former town administrator, said the town did not send a mailed notice to the property owner and has not done that in the past. The town relies on the posted signs as notification. Nor, he said, has the town ever called by phone to “remind” property owners of hearings. That’s not required by state law.
Abutting property owners were mailed notices, as evidenced in the town agenda package for the meeting.
Mr. Seaberg said Mr. Hill had been informally notified of all of the dates important to his rezoning request and should have known of the hearing.
“He was at the planning board meeting” when it was discussed June 4, he said.
Mr. Hill said he does not plan to pursue any action.
“It is what it is,” he said. “Let it roll.”
At any rate, as soon as the formal public hearing ended Tuesday, commissioners indicated they’d made up their minds to deny the request, despite town staff and the planning board having said it technically met the provisions of the land-use plan by being on the commercial corridor along Highway 24.
“I’m concerned,” Commissioner John Nash said. “We’ve had a lot of good input from the neighborhood.”
He said one thing that worried him is that if the property, near the west end of town, were to be developed as a business, it would need a curb cut for ingress/egress off Highway 24.
That, he said, would create more danger for motorists on the highway, especially since the property is near the end of a long curve that runs all the way from Swansboro to the center of Cedar Point.
Further, Mr. Nash said he sees the empty lot, even though it fronts the largely commercially developed highway, as an “extension” of the Dolphin Bay Estates neighborhood behind it.
Commissioner Frankie Winberry said he didn’t think business zoning there would “fit with Cedar Point,” particularly since the parcel is adjacent to a canal and a road, which would mean setbacks would severely limit what could be constructed there.
Commissioner Pam Castellano agreed with the others.
“I believe people should be able to use their land (as they want to) if possible,” she said, “but I believe there are significant safety issues and environmental concerns.”
Mr. Seaberg, working his last meeting before moving on to become town manager in Swansboro, called for a motion, but before anyone could make one, Town Attorney Neil Whitford reminded commissioners they’d need to adopt a consistency statement to justify denying the request. He said he had prepared one during the hearing.
If the board wanted to deny the request, he said, the statement could reflect that commissioners don’t believe the proposal is consistent with the town’s desire to promote public safety or was generally in the public’s best interest.
That’s pretty much what neighborhood spokesperson Michael Shucher said in a prepared statement he read during the public hearing. Amplifying what he and others had said to the planning board and to commissioners during a work session last week, he said more traffic at more businesses along the highway “is a safety concern” and the rezoning would degrade water quality because of runoff from more impervious surface after construction.
Both of those problems, he said, go against the intent of the town’s land-use plan and Unified Development Ordinance.
“It will create more toxic water runoff into the canals … and the water will also run off into the streets and yards of the neighborhood,” Mr. Shucher said. “There are no easy answers to cure pollution problems that plague our coastal waters.
“The residents of this community of Cedar Point and Dolphin Bay Estates cannot risk any situation of further contamination … associated with a business zoning in our residential neighborhood,” he continues.
The canal leads to the White Oak River.
“It (the rezoning) does not help with more traffic or safety for pedestrians because there is no safe way to cross from one side of (Highway) 24 to the other should there be a business on this particular lot,” Mr. Shucher added.
The lot, he said, is in the curve on the highway, and motorists “drive around it like it’s a NASCAR track.” The school bus stop for the children in Dolphin Bay Estates is at that intersection, as well.
“It’s not a simple matter just because of the land-use plan in place, which is merely a suggestion or guideline and does not bind the planning board or you, the commissioners, to legally or ethically rezone (the lot) just because it is on (Highway) 24,” he said.
“It would be in the best interest of the town of Cedar Point to keep the commercial properties more toward the already existing business zone on the east side, where there is more land for customer parking and delivery trucks,” Mr. Shucher he added. “There is more of a land buffer in (the east) between the water, as well as proper crosswalks to accommodate pedestrian use.”
In conclusion, Mr. Shucher said, “We want to work with you to ensure a proper balance between residential and commercial land use to ensure safety, prosperity and privacy and to protect our environmental waters in all of Cedar Point, not just Dolphin Bay.”
The other speaker during the hearing was Theresa Kostrzewa, who said she and her husband live in a house on the canal beside the lot.
“It’s not just any old piece of property on Highway 24,” she said of the acreage proposed for rezoning. “It’s on the water.”
Like Mr. Shucher, she urged the board to protect “this jewel.”
In the end, after the public hearing and the commissioners’ comments, Mr. Nash made the motion to deny the request and adopt the consistency statement and was joined by the rest of the board.
After the meeting, Mr. Shucher thanked commissioners for allowing him to speak at length during the hearing and for making “what we feel was the correct decision.”
He and the neighbors, he said, had spent a lot of time doing research on the issue.
“We’re grateful they (the mayor and commissioners) listened to us,” he said, “and we support them.”
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.